No, you're not seeing things... This is an article about watches! Fear not, we're not planning to stray from pens as our focus, but maybe every once in a while, we might toss in a little something different. Watches aren't too much a stretch, as any trip to a pen show will enable you to arrive at the conclusion that a great many of the people who are in love with fine writing are also enamored of fine timekeeping.
We're no exception. Watches are neat. And they come in a bewildering variety. Almost as many brands and price levels as pens. Well worth maybe jumping in and taking a quick look every now and again, we thought. We'll do our best to keep it to a reasonable minimum, though, so as not to bore the socks off those of you who feel that a ten dollar Timex is more than good enough, watch-wise!
For our debut foray into the wonderful world of watches, we're taking a look at Mondaine. These distinctive Swiss timepieces are easily recognized by their clean, modern looks, and a bright red seconds hand.
Mondaine watches have built a pretty good reputation for offering a solid, reliable watch at a reasonable price. We managed to get our hands on several models, and the general conclusion was that they pretty much offer something for everyone in their line-up.
Well, something for everyone that likes modern design, that is! These are not retro watches, they have nothing of the vintage look to them. Clean, simple, and up to date. Brushed or polished steel and plain leather, with bold black hour and minute hands, and a bright red seconds hand. The design didn't come about by accident, the Mondaine watches owe their looks to the Railway Clocks used in Swiss train stations.
Designed by railway engineer Hans Hilfiker in the 1940s, these clocks use a unique mechanism in which the seconds hand completes a revolution of the dial in 58 seconds, and then pauses at the twelve position. At the minute, an electric signal is sent to all of the clocks, and the seconds hand begins it's trip around the dial once again. In this way, all of the clocks are kept at exactly the same time, to the second. Very punctual folks, those Swiss!
Mondaine, in business since 1951, developed the patented wristwatch version in 1986, and it's now a classic in it's own right. The original, of course, is your basic round face watch, on a black leather strap. There are a couple of sizes available, the larger at 35mm and the smaller a petite 26mm. The case is polished steel, and they are available with white face and black hands and markers, or with a black face and white hands and markers. The movement is a quartz, and seems very reliable. Heck, it's quartz, of course it's reliable! Maybe not as "neat" as a mechanical hand wound or automatic movement, but very reliable.
The basic round face watch is also available on a steel bracelet, if you prefer that look. The bracelet is very nicely done, with relatively small interlocking links. It's perfectly in keeping with the sparse, elegant look of the watch itself. Of course, the bracelet version has a much more substantial feel to it, thanks to the extra weight of the metal bracelet.
If a round face watch isn't for you, the classic Mondaine design is also available in a square face watch. The same bright white face with black hands and markers, and like the round face watch, it's made in both a gent's and a ladies size, and with either the black leather strap, or the steel bracelet. Once again, the movement is quartz, and in terms of function, the square model is the same as the round face version.
Call me a hearty old traditionalist, but I prefer the round face in terms of looks. The square model does have a bit more "up to date" look to it, in keeping with what seems to be the current fashion for rectangular and square shaped watches. Just as with choosing between the bracelet or the leather strap, the choice really comes down to personal taste. I'm glad to say that all the Mondaine watches we tried worked perfectly, regardless of shape!
The classic round and square Mondaine watches are sans date function, but they do make a version with this feature if you need it. Called the Big Date, it is made in the larger 35mm size, and has a clear, easy to read date display at the three 'o clock position on the white dial.
Aside from this addition, it's looks are identical to the classic round face Mondaine watch above. Again, it's personal preference, but I found the date window a bit of a distraction, taking away from the overall look of the watch.
I'll admit, however, that having a date function on a watch can be pretty handy if, like me, you tend to forget the "minor details" like exactly which day it happens to be. The Big Date Mondaine allows you to keep track. Your appointment book might thank you for it...
If you want something a bit more extreme in terms of looks, there are some other offerings form Mondaine that might suite you. The utterly cool Pictowatch, for example. It looks like a watch with only a single hand, but if you keep an eye on it for a while, it soon dawns on you that the white dot is actually the hour marker, and moves around the dial as it keeps time!
The result is unlike most watches in appearance, and it takes the concept of "sparse and clean" to whole new heights. If you're into that sort of thing, this is the watch for you! The only discerning mark on the entire front side of the watch are the words Mondaine Swiss, and since those are in black letters, against a black dial, it's hardly distracting.
The Pictowatch is for those who really want to live the Bauhaus movement, not just to simply appreciate it!
The Pictowatch a bit too austere for your taste? How about the Homage a Johannes Itten? If you want colour, this watch has it. In fact, it's the only one of the group we examined to move away from the black and white look. But just who is this Johannes Itten you ask? Well, it's was, actually, but Itten was instrumental in the development of colour theory, he developed the "colour wheel", which depicts the way in which primary and secondary colours interact with each other.
The Mondaine Homage a Johannes Itten uses a version of this colour wheel design for the watch face. It's certainly not a quiet and simple watch! This watch cries out for attention. The hands are done in plain gray colour, and there are no hour markers on the face. The case is a matte finish gray colour, and the band is plain black leather. Aside from that bright dial, it's a very plain watch.
Ah, but you say that even the bright colours of the Itten don't tempt you? You want something even more unusual. How about a pocketwatch. You know, one of those watches that you don't wear on a wrist? You carry it around in your pocket. Hence the name. Mondaine actually make a couple of models of pocketwatch, but the one we looked at is their simplest model. Basically, it's the same general design as the classic round Mondaine, just larger, and without a band.
Instead, it comes complete with a chain. You get the best of both worlds with this watch. Cutting edge modern design, and the quaint old fashioned nature of a pocketwatch. It's a neat idea. Maybe not quite right for everyone, but it would make an interesting change.
So, in conclusion, it seems safe to say that Mondaine watches are a good value. If you define value as providing reliable performance at a reasonable price. None of the watches we looked at retailed for over $250, and some were much less expensive. As anyone who has done watch shopping knows, $250 is a very attractive price for a well made Swiss brand name watch.
Mondaine may not have all the snob appeal of a Rolex or Cartier, but when it comes down to simply keeping time, they have no trouble more than holding their own.
And looking pretty good while doing so...
Mondaine seems to have that aspect covered quite well!